Last week we were taking about posture and whether one can/ should maintain a specific body position throughout the dance. Inevitably therefore the conversation turned to ochos and whether we should cross the legs.
Crossing the legs in Tango
Let’s first take a look at what that means exactly in the Tango world. You might already be familiar with the specific movement option, but in case you are not, we are talking about bringing one leg right in line with the other while stepping forward or backwards. We are usually cued to do that to isolate the movement of the torso from that of the hips.
Why do choose to cross the legs?
When we cross the legs we lock the hips and lower spine in position. That creates the impression of the hips being square and parallel to the floor. Also, the upper body appears to have a clean rotation over the lower body with a more sharp disassociation.
What limitations does that movement option have?
This option however has some limitations. First, it limits the side tilt range of the spine. Side tilt, as we will see in the video below is coupled with torsion due to the anatomy of the spine, meaning the two movements always happen together.
Second, due to the side tilt limitation, the angle of the pivot is also limited. You see the bigger the pivot the more necessary the side tilt is. With the hips in a lock the side tilt may happen further up in the spine where it may affect the embrace, create tension in our neck, arms and between the shoulder blades and throw us off balance.
What does that mean physically for us?
From an anatomy perspective there are two important issues with this option. One is the side tilt limitation we talked about above. The second is that we will have sheer of forces running outward to the right and left of each hip joint.
Starting from the latter, when we place one foot in front of the other, then our movement options are at the end of range, for example we are at the end of range for adduction. That creates a feeling of tension or pressure through key joint surfaces, such as the hips and knees.
That is though related to the upper body as well. It limits the options our spine has at diaphragm height in terms of torsion and side tilt. Why is that? Well the reasons are more than one, but it really boils down to the shape and orientation of the joints, the muscles and connective tissue of the human body.
So would we say this is a movement option that we want to maintain in our vocabulary?
In terms of Tango it can be a stylistic option that creates a very powerful and dynamic impression. However if we are to use it we would need to be aware of the physical limitations and risks which we spoke about above.
From an anatomical point of view it certainly is not the most efficient and healthy option for us. It locks certain parts of the body and that requires a lot more muscle work to pull through an ocho. If we don’t care so much for the Tango style it is better to choose a movement option that allows the whole body to participate in a more efficient way.
Let me know what you think and send me your questions on this matter or any other to do with posture or ochos..!
It is common and at some times good strategy to separate the above during different classes/ practices on music exploration, in order to dedicate the necessary time to each of them. Sometimes they may come together in a musicality class where choreography is used to explore music textures and qualities or to work on the skill of building a choreography.
What I would like to suggest to you is that you see all these elements as ways to explore the music, as ways to make a map of the song so that you can move and express yourself through it with more ease.
Rhythm is all!
Who said that? Yup! that was indeed MJ
Rhythm is a basically a set of relationships based on three criteria:
the goal – aka where we are going
how far that is and
how fast we are going
And the above are affected by the mass that is moving; for example an arm versus the whole body. Also, the surface on which the item is moving, if there is traction or not and more.
As you can see in the video above there are many different ways to explore these relationships, we can count, clap, sing, dance or we can simply spend some time just listening.
And listening starts from within. There is one vital element that most of us, especially when dancing with someone else, tend to forget. And that is our breathing. There is rhythm in our breathing and that rhythm is unique to us, and very much dependent on what we are doing from one moment to the next. Therefore, every music exploration should start internally before we reach outward, as we are doing in the video above.
Lastly, before we go the beat, notice that though in the video we are playing mostly with the arms the feet are participating only they are not main focus. They can of course be the route through which we explore all of these relationships, so I invite you to give it try… it is truly a lot of fun!
And the beat goes on
I learned this exercise a few years ago from the wonderful Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes. And it has been an exercise that I have been going back to over and over again because it is not only very helpful, fun and challenging but also as an idea, as a music exploration strategy, it is something that you can apply to any and all sequences.
So what happens in this particular video, is that we take a routine that is very well known and broadly used in Tango, in this case the ocho cortado and we start changing the relationship of the steps with the beat. This is the idea behind the exercise and so now you can understand that you can do the same thing, with the Tango basic/ box step, with the giro step and with any other sequence really.
How does this help us though map out the music?
OK! I want to share a strategy with you here, that again applies to all the things we practice on, but we will stick with the specifics of this exercise to have some solid reference. Suggested practice steps:
Practice each variation separately, one by one with and without the music.
Make little groups of 2 variations to practice on the music. How you choose? Well, there two ways that I usually follow:
Group the variation you are the most comfortable with every other, making groups of 2
Or group very different variations, for example from our video, the very slow/ mellow version with the syncopated version
Second last step, decide on how many times you would like to do each variation lets say 4 times each. You put the music on and you do each variation 4 times, one after the other until the song is over.
Very last step..! Let all the practice go and dance! What does that mean? You put the music back on and you let the music guide you as to which variation is more appropriate for that moment. As you can understand this is a step that may last for some time.
It is advised that you stick with the same song as you go through the steps above and that you see this as a flexible structure, and not a linear process. Meaning that you can go back and forth between steps, stick with one step for your whole practice one day and the next day you carry on etc. Basically, notice what your needs are as you go through the structure and give permission to yourself to adjust the strategy to your needs.
Embellishments – A music exploration power tool!
In this last video, we are playing with embellishments. Of course what you see in the video are only 3 of the many embellishments you can do on ochos but they have been specifically chosen. They will help us broaden our vocabulary and our understanding of the timing of the ochos, they are great tools for us to express ourselves better and have a bit of fun trying things out on the music but also and most importantly they can help us map out the textures of the music.
Embellishments in particular, because of their nature, they are add ons they are not required, they are one of the greatest tools to capture the textures of the music. Often times the same embellishment can be aggressive and powerful or spicy and playful depending on how you perform it.
So following the same strategy as described above try to see what textures you can capture and express with the 3 embellishments of our video during your music exploration session.
Music is much more than steps on the beat
Closing this short blog post, I hope that you have been inspired to look deeper into what the rhythm and the beat are and how you can explore them but also to look beyond them when you are trying to understand and relate to the music.
Think of the beat as the basic grid for each song. Over that grid we then have multiple layers. Some are consistently in the spotlight and some are making brief appearances with solos or by bridging musical phrases.
It is essential to get a clear understanding of the structure of the song, of the grid and then of the different layers that come over it in order to then be able to fully listen and express the music through your dance. And of course, the fact that we may be able to hear all the different layers doesn’t mean that we will dance to them; it is important though that we are able to hear them while we are dancing.
We have spent a couple of our Tango Movement Labs working on these elements so you can certainly visit the latest videos on that list and of course join us on Wednesday for a live practice. Tango Movement Lab runs every Wednesday 12:15pm EST through Facebook and Youtube
And of course if you don’t want to miss any of the extra goodies that I weekly put out, subscribe to the community of Bautanz
This is the video from the latest Live Tango practice that we run every week. This week things didn’t go quite as planned… In retrospect nothing terrible happened but I did lose my balance a couple of times and got into show-must-go-on mode! (haha)
Show must go on–when is it useful?
One would think, like I did until today, that especially when you are teaching, dancing in general performing, then there is only one mode, the show-must-go-on mode…
And I can surely agree on certain performance types, such as a dance show, that of course you keep on going. However teaching and practicing, even if it is streaming live, have a different purpose, as during those times we have the opportunity to learn!
So if you notice in the video above there are some imbalances from the beginning of my dance. To which I reacted with stubbornly doing more back ochos, but to no avail. It was only after I slowed things down and then added rebounds that things started actually getting better. However from beginning to end my focus was to keep going and not to take some time to find out why I was off balance.
That of course takes us to nearly the end of the video where there are some more balance issues… Where once more, time is not given to address the issue. So even now that I writing this I can only speculate why I was off balance.
Someone might ask: Well what is the big deal? It only happened once or it happens to everyone or you just kept going… Well it is not really a big deal but more a missed opportunity!
A missed opportunity to figure out what is really wrong
These were moments where I could have paused or I could have at least slowed down.
When we do that we are more able to pay attention, to listen, to stop the fear and the anxiety that are building up and focus on what we are attempting to do. Had I done that, I would have gotten a list of various different things that could have potentially caused the imbalance. However now I got nothing!
So you see what the problem is… Now there is no way to learn from this experience, the opportunity for deeper exploration is lost. Along with it, a step to progress and potentially not being in the same boat again is also lost. In this way I see this as a missed opportunity.
It is a missed opportunity to deepen our understanding, to explore different options and possibly come up with more ideas and variations for exploration. So it is actually a missed opportunity to learn!
My suggestion to you…
If you find yourselves in a similar situation whether it is a one off or a regular case then pause or slow down and try to see if there are different ways to approach whatever it is giving you trouble.
Don’t see it as a moment to push through but an opportunity to go deeper.
That is my suggestion, of course you can decide for yourself how you want to manage those moments while going through one of our other practices for example…haha…which you can find here: https://bautanz.com/online-tango-practice/
P.S: No time for a 30min practice? No worries try out the Tango exercise of the week:
If you had the opportunity to practice with me on Wednesday you probably noticed that a big part of the class was about this wave-like, this spiral movement our body follows when walking that can help us transition smoothly to ochos.
The spiral as an experience
I wanted to share some extra information on the idea behind this practice and a few extra videos that you can practice with. The idea behind all this is the defining element of the spiral. The spiral is not just some random shape that happens to appear in certain parts of the body. It is not just a shape that allows for efficiency of movement. The spiral is our existence, it is literally our DNA. And DNA being the carrier of hereditary material it is experience! The spiral in this way exists in our every move from our cells to our highest boleos!
Therefore, finding the spiral in your movement, even in the ones that look fairly straight, will heighten your awareness of your movement and it will energize your whole body with it’s vibrancy.
An important characteristic: progressive wholeness
When picturing a spiral of any type, we associate it, and rightfully so, with continuous energy. However, I would like to add to that and say that there is also the element of progressive wholeness A spiral always moves switching between condensing and expanding, with continuous transition between the two and a continuous coexistence. Try to feel the movement through your body when you walk and when you ocho–in the latter it is of course more evident–as a transition and coexistence of condensing and expanding. Instead of thinking how each muscle body part should move try to feel whole. And specifically a wholeness deriving from the continuous flow of the spiral and not through squeezing, pulling, pushing, holding etc.
And so to make it more specific let’s look at our practice. We explored forward and backward ochos feeling how the back and core muscles condense and expand and how one can create a different quality of movement making one or the other action (condensing-expanding) primary. This is an excellent practice to follow if you wish to explore different Tango styles but also if you want to work on expressing yourself better on the music.
It is interesting to see people’s reactions to boleos. I am actually sure quite a few people probably won’t read this article because it includes the word boleos in the title…but for those who are here now be prepared for a bit of a twist to your regular boleo experience…haha
Boleos are not high kicks..!
So what is a boleo? A boleo is a change of direction on a turn, on a pivot It doesn’t have to be powerful, it doesn’t have to be high or super low and of course it doesn’t have to be a kick
Certainly there potential for all the things mentioned above…all of them though refer to style and not to the essence of what a boleo is.
ALL we need for a good boleo
And unfortunately it is not love…haha
2 are the main ingredients for a great boleo:
Timing as with everything in life and
The balance between energy contained and shared
The following video looks into both of these main items and sets the base for fancier boleos and more in depth explorations
Look beyond the kick- Enhance your Tango technique
If we look at a boleo for what it is, a change of direction and make our focus to make as smooth as possible whether contain or share energy, we will soon discover that there certain elements such as the hip axis that if we focused on them we could have a completely different experience during our dances.
The next two videos go progressively deeper into exploring the hip axis and especially the last one creates the link to other Tango essentials such as our walks and ochos
Walks and ochos are the two elements at the heart of Tango; every sequence with maybe the exception of off-axis sequences are based on walks and ochos
It is therefore important to get a good understanding of how walks and ochos work and how they can be tied together. And this is exactly what we will be focusing on in this post
Zooming In: Walks and Pivotal timing
In this first video we are putting our walks under the microscope. We capture though the whole body, aiming to understand how all the dots connect.
By focusing on the feet, the legs, the hips, the torso and the spine we will discover that the opportune moment for a pivot, hides within our step.
Once that discovery is made, we can see how a walk can turn into an ocho and vice versa. This way walks and ochos aren’t as separate, disconnected Tango elements that are need a sequence to connect them. This way we get to create options for ourselves on and off the dance floor.
Tango Technique: Zoom In on Ochos #2
In this second video there is a great focus on the upper body but again not as a separate entity.
The human body has so many fascinating links. The psoas major for example, originates in the outer surfaces of the vertebral bodies of T12 and L-1-L-3. T8-T12 is where your thoracic spine changes to Lumbar spine, so a muscle that goes around your hip reaches all the way up to your second- last rib… Fascinating! (Look here for more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psoas_major_muscle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliopsoas)
It is all connected I tell you!hahaha And by exploring these connections we can make our dances have much more flow, freedom and efficiency.
Tango, Body mechanics and Energy management
What was implied or talked about as secondary in the two previous videos, becomes primary now… Energy management..! Energy management not in a spiritual, abstract way, but in a very physical way. Managing the energy our bodies need to perform a movement and how can we manage our energy so it is not wasted.
Basically in this video we are aiming to make Tango feel a bit easier, at least in execution…haha…meaning that walking across the floor shouldn’t feel like a physically demanding task and pivoting also.
We put styling and personal preference to the side to examine how the body was in fact built to create these movements. Some being more chaotic than others, will require further exploration; and funnily enough walking is probably the most chaotic of all as it requires a lot of movements around different axises and on different planes.
So we have tried to come up with exercises that can help us understand a bit of the chaos, and possibly add to it; exercises that will allow us to feel a bit more comfortable in this chaotic movement and that will allow us to define the opportune moments for a change
I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have. If you have any questions, comments or light-bulb moments drop me a line, I would love to chat with you!